Two celebs - American Idol’s Katharine McPhee and Real Housewives’ Bethenny Frankel - are catching flack for purportedly (albeit inadvertently) promoting eating disorders by giving diet tips or letting themselves be airbrushed. The reason they’re being blamed? Both women have spoken openly about personally struggling with disordered eating in their past.
When McPhee recently appeared on the cover of Shape Magazine, Katie Drummond of True/Slant argued that her thin frame, visible collarbone, and obviously airbrushed skin conflicted with her message in the magazine that she refuses to obsess over her weight. Here’s how Drummond put it:
“Being so conscious of your own body, and its apparent shortcomings, is very difficult. So, how do you think the millions of teens and young women eying you in a swimsuit are going to feel about their own self-worth? I’m not faulting McPhee for wanting to celebrate her health and recovery. But I am faulting her for doing it in a way that’s likely going to do more harm than good for other women.”
Around the same time, this blogger wrote about NYC's Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel possibly promoting disordered eating via her “Skinny Girl" dieting tips. Such tips include suggesting you take "three bites of everything" you like but discarding the rest or passing it along to a friend; skipping salt on your margarita glass rims because “I feel like my ankles are swelling and I'm bloated thinking about it”; her advice to "Taste Everything, Eat Nothing”; and her seeming penchant for alcohol. A New York Post blind item asking, "Which unnaturally thin celebrity chef credits her bony frame to good eating habits, but really is addicted to laxatives?" didn’t help matters. (You may recall Frankel was also chastised for being airbrushed in a recent PETA ad when in fact, the unairbrushed pics proved she simply has a fabulous body.)
So what do YOU think? Are these women being hypocritical? Should celebs who have come out about their previous eating disorders be held to a different, higher standard than others when it comes to positive body image messaging? For example, should McPhee, who struggled mightily with bulimia – to the point where she nearly lost her singing voice because of it – refuse to be airbrushed in magazines and ads because by doing so, she’s perpetuating the same sort of “thin is beautiful” societal mantra that helped land her in trouble in the first place? Or is Frankel, by telling women they can “taste everything” while “eating nothing” – even with tongue in cheek – helping drive women towards anorexia?
Personally, I think we need to cut these women a bit of slack. The fact that they even spoke publicly about their body image battles helps bring attention to the issue. Plus, they didn’t create the "Skinny Equals Beautiful" monster, they’re simply making a living. If Katharine McPhee showed up to that Shape cover shoot and said, “You are not allowed to airbrush me,” one of two things likely would have happened: A) They would have said,” Too bad, you’re on our magazine cover, and our readers want to see perfection.” Or B) “Fantastic!! Let’s make a huge splash out of the fact that you’re Katharine McPhee and are agreeing to pose un-retouched on our cover!” and then she’ll get eviscerated for still representing an unattainable ideal, like what happened when Marie Claire Australia did this with Jennifer Hawkins. Either way, she can’t win.